Dietary fiber: types and health benefits
QL Health is back with another important topic! Dr Nawal Al Alem from Tadawi Medical Center shares her expert insights on dietary fiber, its types and health benefits.
What is dietary fiber?
Fiber plays an important role in maintaining the health of the digestive system. Dietary fiber includes the parts of plant foods that our body cannot absorb unlike fats, proteins or carbohydrates which are broken down by the various digestive enzymes that can be absorbed in the intestines and then transferred by the bloodstream to different cells of our body. Instead, fiber passes relatively intact through our digestive system and out of the body.
How many types of dietary fiber are there?
Dietary fiber is classified into two main types:
Soluble fiber: This type of fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like material. Sources include fruits, vegetables, grains (such as oats and barley), seeds (such as pumpkin seeds and flax), legumes (such as beans, lentils and peas). It can help lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels
Insoluble fiber: This type of fiber doesn't dissolve in water. However, it promotes the movement of material through your digestive system and increases stool bulk, so it can be of benefit to those who struggle with constipation. Sources include fruit peels, vegetable peels, nuts, whole grain (such as whole rice - whole wheat).
The amount of soluble and insoluble fiber varies in different plant foods. To receive the greatest health benefit, eat a wide variety of high-fiber foods.
What are the benefits of dietary fiber to the human body?
- It is an essential food for the beneficial bacteria in the intestines, which in turn ferment these dietary fibers, producing some fatty acids that the beneficial bacteria feed on, so that they can multiply in the gut.
- Helps control blood sugar level and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. It limits the speed of glucose absorption through the digestive system, which prevents a sudden rise in blood sugar (glucose) level after meals.
- Regulates intestinal movement and prevents constipation. Fiber absorbs water, thus increasing the size of the fecal mass, and making it softer, which facilitates its passage through the intestine, and also prevents colon cancer as it protects the intestinal wall from contact with toxic and carcinogenic substances in food.
- Reduces the risk of heart disease. It has a lowering effect on cholesterol and blood pressure.
- Contributes to losing excess weight. It gives a feeling of fullness and satiety that lasts for a long time because of the gelatinous mass formed by the volume of fibers inside the stomach.
- Avoid squeezing fruits, as they lose their content of fiber when squeezed, that’s why it is always recommended to eat fruits with their pulp in order to benefit from their content of fiber.
- The peels of some fruits and vegetables are among the richest parts in fiber, so it is advisable not to peel them, when possible.
- Gradually increase your daily intake of fiber in vegetables, fruits, hulled rice, hulled wheat products, sesame seeds, pumpkin, and others.
- Avoid eating refined foods that have lost their fiber during processing, such as white rice and white wheat products (like white bread, pastries and pasta).
- Avoid eating pure fiber, as in tablets that contain fiber alone, such as wheat bran tablets.
Conclusively, it is very important to adhere to a balanced diet that provides the body with all the necessary nutrients, as this has a positive impact on the psychological state, immune function and physical health, without excessive intake of any food element.
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